Home May 2013 Cosmic and Colorful

Cosmic and Colorful

Epitomizing the bright colors and cosmic awe of the 1960s, pop artist Peter Max has brought his eclectic influences and vivid imagination to bear on works that literally turn up everywhere. The 74-year-old cultural icon, who will have an exhibit in Newport Beach from May 1 to 4, has offered bold colors, uplifting images and an uncommon artistic diversity that have touched almost every phase of American culture and inspired many generations.
Max, however, is so much more than a product of or an influence on the ‘60s.  He is a Holocaust survivor, who moved to China, then Israel, then France, then America.  He is influenced by his “brain and beating heart” and his Jewish background, as well as the stars in the sky.  His art goes on canvases, posters and even the hulls of airplanes and ships – and it always stays fresh and vivid.
Peter Max has painted for seven U.S. Presidents, and his art is on display in Presidential Libraries and in U.S. Embassies.  Max has painted our Lady Liberty annually since America’s Bicentennial.  In 2000 a collage of his Liberties adorned over 145 million Verizon phone books.  Max was named an official artist of the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.  He has also been official artist of five Super Bowls, World Cup USA, the World Series, the U.S. Open, the Indy 500, the NYC Marathon and the Kentucky Derby.
Max has had numerous one-man museum exhibitions.  In addition, his art has flown the skies on a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 Jet and sailed the seas on the hull of a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.  His art installations include a 600-foot stage for the Woodstock Music Festival, a giant mural for the Winter Olympics and 10-foot guitars for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  He has done 1,123 magazine covers – “a whole warehouse full,” he said.
Max’s story began in Berlin, but quickly moved to Shanghai, as his parents took him away to escape the Nazis.  His mother, Salla, was a fashion designer in Berlin before the family moved to Shanghai.  She cultivated her son’s innate talent by leaving various art supplies on all four balconies of their pagoda house — water colors, ink, brushes, pencils, crayons, colored papers, scissors, etc.  She told him, “Choose any balcony and medium, make a big mess and we’ll clean up after you.”
During his childhood in Shanghai, Max was also inspired by his nanny, a girl only six years older than he was.  The little girl had the techniques to teach him because her father was a painter, and she worked with him for 7 years.  He also became inspired at that time by the “billions of stars at night” and decided to become an astronomer.
“There are trillions of cells, billions of species and then billions of galaxies,” he said.  “It’s beyond belief, and it lets you know that something is in control.  I was just knocked out, blown away by the idea.  I began to draw space and let my mind soar in that fantasy.”
The family moved to Haifa where Max studied with Austrian expressionist, Professor Honik, who introduced his student to the colorful world of Fauvism and the paintings and drawings of Henri Matisse, Maurice Vlaminck, Max Beckmann and Alexi Jawlensky.  While Max studied painting, his interest in astronomy was rekindled when he visited the Mt. Carmel Observatory.  He was so eager to learn about space that his parents enrolled him immediately in an evening astronomy class at the Technion Institute.
Learning about the vastness and wonders of the universe was a revelation to Max.  He became so absorbed by the subject that he began to study art and astonomy simultaneously.  His immense passion for space continues to this day, and celestial elements often appear in his works, especially his art of the late 1960s — a period appropriately coined, “The Cosmic ‘60s.”
Max’s next destination was Paris, where he became captivated with the grand scale and painstaking perfection of Classical art and Realism, particularly the paintings of the French artist, Bouguereau.  Once again, his quest for creative self-expression was so strong that his parents enrolled him into art classes at the Louvre.  Ultimately, it was New York City, with its growing pop art culture of fashions, automobiles, movie theaters and towering over them all, the Empire State Building that had taken a young man who had grown up in ancient lands and suddenly catapulted him into the future.
Max began his formal art studies at the Art Students League in Manhattan under the tutelage of Frank Reilly, a realistic painter.  After classes and on weekends, Max spent all his spare time at museums studying the techniques of the masters.
After leaving the Art Student’s League, Max began looking for a gallery to exhibit his work.  By chance, an art director for a record company saw Max’s paintings at a photo copy service, where he had left them to make prints.  He immediately contacted Max and commissioned him to do a painting for a record album cover for Meade Lux Lewis, the blues piano player.  The album cover won the annual Society of Illustrators award and many other commissions and awards followed.
Excited by the mid-’60s counterculture explosion, Max turned to the medium of collage to capture the zeitgeist of the era and create a mind-expanding psychedelic vision.  He also saw the print industry expanding with four-color web presses.  To Max, this print media explosion meant one thing — he could turn his original art works into posters and share them with the youth of America.  Soon, Max’s posters were hanging in college dorms all across America with several million sold in nine months.
Like the Beatles, Max also made his TV debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. He also appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and made the cover of Life Magazine with an eight-page feature cover story.  Max’s art was so much in synch with the times that it was licensed by 72 corporations, from General Electric clocks to Burlington Mills socks. Within a three year period, the line of products had generated more than $1 billion in retail sales.
Max never forgot his Jewish roots – from the father and mother who “adored Jewishness” to being a refugee to “getting our own country back” in Israel.  He also cherishes his American roots, especially his relationships with seven Presidents and their families, as well as scientists, astronomers and other famous people he has painted.
Most of all, he enjoys the diversity of his work and the way it has evolved.  “I enjoy beyind belief the ability to be creative,” he said.  “I’m living constantly in creative pleasure.  Sometimes I’m swimming in it.”

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